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'Top Chef' recap, 'Oui Si a Challenge'

It’s getting down to the wire for the final chefs, and we get the season's tensest episode and one of the most intense episodes to date.

This week we join in with the final six cheftestants left for the season.  We quickly reminisce over the past week and saying goodbye to Carrie and quickly move right into this week’s QuickFire challenge.

The chefs are joined by Padma and Chef Jacques Pepin. In this week’s challenge, Jacques prepared his favorite dish, Dover Sole with artichoke and asparagus for the chefs to observe and study his techniques. He even showed them how to create a “butter rose” and joked that they could now charge $30 for this.  OK, I am in the wrong business.  I am officially starting a butter rose factory and those greasy dollars are going to start rolling in! After, the chefs got 35 minutes to recreate the dish to a “T." 

They chefs work through the techniques including handmade cherry tomatoes, made by pressing a whole tomato. Skinning the sole in one piece and of course, creating the butter rose.

After Padma and Jacques reviewed and tasted each dish, it was Nicholas’ preparation that won him the challenge and immunity.

For this week’s Elimination Challenge, the chefs will have to explore two of New Orleans deep culinary roots – Spanish and French cuisine.  Each style is distinctively different, yet rely on made of the same ingredients. Five ingredients that are quintessential in both cuisines are to be highlighted: olives, almonds, mussels, chicken, and chocolate. They will compete at Revolution Restaurant, perfectly names for this culinary war. 

To begin this challenge, the chefs draw knives to create two teams, the French team and the Spanish team. The teams are also joined by master chefs Julian Serrano to coach the Spanish team and Dominique Crenn to coach the French team. 

The French team includes Shirley, Nicholas and Stephanie. The Spanish team is made up by Carlos, Brian and Nina.   

Each team plans their menus under the supervision of their coaches.  The French team, under Dominique’s direction is decidedly more modern with dishes taking risks yet relying on classic French technique. Nicholas even decides to make a corn silk nest….to eat.  If we can eat those, then why do I spend half my summer peeling them off all my corn-on-the-cob!?

Julian’s team is the polar opposite. (Not to be confused with the polar vortex.) The Spanish team is going for simple flavors and preparation. It’s a true old school versus new school battle.

After the five course menus are planned, the team take off to Whole Foods to gather their goods.  Watching the two teams find their ingredients is kind of like showing your mom how to play a video game.  Someone gets it, and someone is going through the motions but are clueless. 

The French team and chef Dominique fly through the aisles, grab what they need and make quick decisions when a specific ingredient is MIA. They’ve got all the moves and are certainly winning this first battle in the war.

On the other hand, the Spanish team can’t keep track of each other.  Chef Julian is confused and walking around aimlessly. One of the chefs notes that they think he is confusing this with a nice Sunday stroll through the farmer’s market.

Back at Revolution the Tom, Padma and Emeril are also joined by Chef Dominique, Chef Julian, and the chefs and owners of the restaurant, John Folse and Rick Tramonto and Jacques Pepin.

Now we’ll break down the courses:

Course One: The French team made a snapper ceviche with an olive oil ice cream.  The Spanish team put out a potato salad with green olives. (A dish Nina is convinced is too simple and will send her home)

Course Two: The French team served up pickled and poached mussels. The Spanish team served an Ajo Blanco with crab, almond and cherry.

Course Three: For the French team, a chicken liver mousse and consommé. The Spanish team made mejillones a la Romesco with leeks.

Course Four: The French team created a Cornish game hen, spiced chocolate and that darn corn silk nest.  For the Spanish team, chicken and saffron rice.

Fifth Course: The final French course is a Marcona almond flan. The Spanish dessert is a chocolate flan. 

After the meals are complete, the judges debate the cuisine styles and techniques. There is a lot of contention between the guest chefs Julian and Dominique.  Dominique criticizes Julian for refusing to even try the chocolate hen dish created by her team. She argues, "We can like or not like a dish, but I think it's important to embrace what everyone is doing here, and not be so one dimensional."

In the end, the Spanish team wins the foodie war and Nina is the Elimination Challenge winner!

Now for the real tension of the night.  The judges had all concluded that the main reason that the French team was not on top this week was solely due to Nicholas’ hen, chocolate and corn silk dish. However, he has immunity this week – what to do?

The judge’s meet with the French team and critique each course.  Overall they are completely impressed and satisfied with what both Stephanie and Shirley have produced and know that if Nicholas did not have immunity this would be an easy decision.  Then the best part of the night!  Chef Jacques asks Nicholas, “Do you think your team should be penalized for you, or do you think you should resign?"

Long pause. Long pause. Come on, Nick! Make the right decision.

Negative. Nicholas states that he thinks he did well enough in the QuickFire to keep his immunity. Burn!  Stephanie mentions how she cannot even look at him now. Shirley hopes he will do the right thing and then prove himself in Last Chance Kitchen.

The judges are then forced to decide who they will have to send home in the end. Tom mentions that he hopes that Nicholas will do the right thing and come out and fall on his sword.

That’s not the case either; the judges send Stephanie home. She breaks down and is chased out of the room by Shirley as Nicholas sulks behind them.

We’ve got ourselves a real game here. This season was begging for someone to step up and create some controversy and boy, did we get it last night.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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